Journalists on a trip organized by the Russian Defense Ministry watched from the deck of Russia’s Admiral Essen frigate as two submarines launched seven missiles from the Mediterranean Sea.
The Syrian regime forces, backed by Russian air cover, last week broke a three-year siege around the city on the Euphrates River.
Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov told reporters later that intelligence showed the missiles hit the targets southeast of Deir Ezzor, destroying a command center, a communications hub, an ammunition depot and an unspecified number of Daesh fighters.
Russia has provided military backing for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces since 2015. It has repeatedly fired salvoes of such missiles, from both the sea and mainland Russia.
An Associated Press reporter on the deck of the Admiral Essen frigate saw three missiles and later four more flying into the air, leaving trails of smoke. Two submarines have emerged and were visible on the horizon shortly afterwards.
Backed by an intense aerial campaign, Syrian and allied forces pushed their way toward the city last week, breaking a nearly three-year siege on its troops on the western edge of Deir Ezzor. It was a major symbolic victory for the pro-government forces. Since then, they have been battling remnants of the militants inside the city, seizing more than 60 percent of it. On Thursday, the pro-regime forces were closing in at the extremists from three sides along the river, pounding Al-Bogheliyah neighborhood on the northwestern edge of the city.
The militants are currently encircled by Syrian troops from three sides, with their backs to the Euphrates River. However, they still control rural areas outside the city and the border with Iraq.
As Daesh reels from significant losses in Syria and Iraq, there is a race for control of the border with Iraq, currently still in the militants’ hands. US-backed Syrian forces are meanwhile advancing in the surrounding province from the east and north, on the other side of the river.
Bassem Aziz, a spokesman for the US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said his troops had taken control of an industrial area on the eastern bank of the river, a few kilometers from the government troops. Aziz said they are about 6 km away from the city’s eastern entrance.
In its statement last week, the US-led coalition said it will back its partners on the ground to defeat Daesh and “will do our utmost to ensure that (Daesh) terrorists do not move toward the border of our Iraqi partners.
On Wednesday night, a convoy of Daesh terrorists and their relatives being evacuated from the border with Lebanon has crossed into Deir Ezzor from a desert area in central Syria, ending a standoff with the US-led coalition that briefly overshadowed the race for the province.
The evacuation, negotiated by Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, removed the militants from the Syria-Lebanon border but angered Iraq and the US, which said they should have been killed on the battlefield not moved to the Iraq border.
The deal reached at the end of August allowed hundreds of militants and their families to relocate to Boukamal, a Daesh-held Syrian town near the Iraqi border, in exchange for Daesh-held prisoners and the remains of Lebanese soldiers captured in 2014. One surviving Hezbollah fighter was returned to Lebanon on Thursday.
The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdurrahman said buses and vehicles carrying about 400 militants and civilians crossed into Deir Ezzor province Wednesday. It was not clear where the buses went.
The US-led coalition struck the road the convoy was traveling on, leaving it stranded in the desert for about two weeks, though some vehicles were able to slip into militant-held territory. The US said it did not strike the convoy itself because of the presence of civilians.
Last week, the US-led coalition said it ended surveillance of the convoy after a Russian request, as Syrian troops advanced against Daesh in eastern Deir Ezzor province.
The proximity of the two forces raises the specter of confrontation, as both sides vie for the border with Iraq and the oil and resources-rich province.